Adventure Academy: the educational MMO created by WoW, the developers of LOTRO

For decades, developers and scholars have searched for ways to use the interactivity of video games to help educate children. From console classics like Mario Is Missing (remember that?) to the plethora of mobile apps, there have always been efforts to combine playtime and learning.

Adventure Academy is perhaps the most ambitious attempt to date. Developed over the past three years by Age of Learning, it’s an MMO targeting elementary and middle school students that challenges them to explore the titular institution and the lands around it, by s engaging in quests and mini-games as they do.

There are thousands of “learning activities”, as the developer calls them, which encompass a mixture of mini-games, videos and interactive play sessions. It’s also cross-platform across desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, so kids can continue their adventure wherever they want.

Alex Galvagni, Learning Age

“We think we’ve done something really unique and innovative, building this kind of big, ambitious massively multiplayer game,” said production president Alex Galvagni. “But at the end of the day, it’s an educational product.”

The project grew out of the studio’s previous hit, ABC Mouse, a collection of early childhood educational games (kids ages 2-8) that was hugely successful in the United States, attracting tens of millions of players.

“We wanted to continue with a product aimed at a slightly older audience,” says Galvagni. “What happens when they graduate from ABC Mouse and move on to primary and secondary school? This is the product that answers that.”

More interesting, however, is the team’s past experience before ABC Mouse. Galvagni previously served as general manager at developer Lord of the Rings Online Turbine Studios, while executive producer Kevin Beardslee was one of the original developers of World of Warcraft. The studio is also made up of hundreds of developers who have previously worked on these and other MMOs, injecting authenticity into Adventure Academy’s position in the genre.

“All the essential elements of an MMO are in this game,” says Beardlsee. “When I was working on WoW, we were doing [those elements] more accessible to people. In previous games, quest givers did not have markers above their heads. So here we’re saying, ‘This is a questgiver, they want to talk to you.’

“We’re not trying to find whales, or do ultra monetization. We’re trying to get kids to learn how to be successful in their college careers”

Alex Galvagni, Learning Age

“There is a rich story around this world, its foundation and all the creatures and inhabitants of this fantasy realm. Just like in modern MMOs, you are guided through the world with quests, peeling off layers and learning more and more about the world, venturing further until you unlock new areas. This is what most MMOs do, you don’t want to overburden the player when logging in, so a lot of those same theories are also evident in this game.”

Galvagni adds: “Another thing is that it is simply difficult to create an MMO [without experience]. The technique, the visuals, the animations – we bring all of these things together with our wonderful group of several hundred people who also have experience in MMOs and this kind of deep, rich and persistent product. »

Unlike the rest of the MMO market, Adventure Academy will not be free. Like ABC Mouse, this will be subscription-based, costing $9.99 per month, or less if you opt for an annual plan. There will be no in-app purchases, no advertising – none of the trappings of monetization that characterize free games.

“For a year, it’s less than the price of a tutoring session for a ninth-grader,” says Galvagni.

He continues, “We think it’s a really good way to deliver an academic product. We’re not trying to find whales, or do ultra monetization. We know this industry — before we were at Turbine, I was at Glu It’s not our job, we try to get a reasonable monthly subscription so kids learn to play, interact and succeed in their college careers.

The game's educational content is delivered through a mix of videos, reading activities and mini-games

The game’s educational content is delivered through a mix of videos, reading activities and mini-games

The learning activities have all been designed by a dedicated teaching team, made up of around 40 experts in various subjects, including math, science, English language, art and social studies.

Joel

Joel Kupperstein, Age of Learning

Joel Kupperstein, Senior Vice President of Program Management, tells us, “We conducted extensive research with people across the country…to design activities that bring out the things most important to kids. things they are most interested in, things their teachers care most about, things they struggle with Stuff like fractions – what kid didn’t have a problem with fractions in elementary school?

“I think we tapped into the fact that kids this age always like to learn when it’s presented in an engaging way, and we learned a lot about the kind of agency kids need – that’s why it is an MMO. I come from a school background, not a gaming background, so seeing the two things come together means so much to me.”

Historically, attempts to make a game educational have actually hurt gameplay, but Galvagni is confident that including all of the systems players have come to expect from MMOs will help make this much more appealing. Like many MMOs, Adventure Academy features leveling (with endgame content for those who reach the cap), a guild system, player unlockables, customizable avatars, housing for spaces personalized and, of course, a vast world to explore.

“To some extent, education can be seen as a chore, but even educational activities are interactive, they’re fun, they’re not judgmental,” says Galvagni.

“We have a lot of systems similar to Fortnite. A lot of younger players can’t do the daily challenges of this game, but here they can”

Kevin Beardslee, Learning Age

Kupperstein adds, “Kids have a ton of choice. That’s one of the most important things. There’s no set path in content that forces kids to do what we say, but there is has lots of options. We use our quest and adventure cards to guide kids through topics, but basically they have a choice of what they want to pursue. If they want to focus on science, fantasy If they want to focus on reading, fine.

“We went to great lengths to incorporate literacy experiences into all of these things. If you want to focus on the science, you do it through all these deep reading experiences. children can explore by themselves. And we know from research that kids work best when they work together, and an MMO is set up to elucidate that from kids.

Adventure Academy is admirably ambitious, sure, but how can it hope to garner attention in an age where kids’ playtime is spent almost entirely on Fortnite and/or Minecraft? While Age of Learning will naturally appeal to the millions of kids graduating from ABC Mouse as they grow too old for its pursuits, the lure of games from more established developers will be nearly impossible to overcome.

“I don’t think they play ours instead,” says Galvagni. “People will continue to play Fortnite and other console games. I think it will be a really fun and exciting experience, with educational elements that people will really enjoy. enjoy this kind of safe and educational environment for kids and will ultimately be the ones buying subscriptions.”

Beardslee adds, “We have a lot of systems similar to Fortnite. We have fully customizable emotes, outfit system, and avatars. Very soon after launch, we’ll have daily challenges. What we’re picking up from younger players, it’s that a lot of them can’t complete these challenges in Fortnite – they’re hard – but here they can. Or if they don’t have the V-Bucks to buy something in Fortnite, in this game they can earn the coins, they are able to do everything on their own. Some of the testimonials we had say that kids love it because they can achieve their goals in this game.”

Adventure Academy has everything you would expect from an MMO: leveling, guilds, housing, quests for better loot and a 3D world for its players to explore

Adventure Academy has everything you would expect from an MMO: leveling, guilds, housing, quests for better loot and a 3D world for its players to explore

Galvagni points out that this is another reason why it was important to opt for a subscription rather than a free model: “Even things like daily quests, we make it so people can come back so they can learning. playing games where they’re trying to bring them back so they can monetize them. That’s a totally different motivation behind monetization. We’re really focused on making kids successful.

Adventure Academy goes live today with its initial areas and quests, but more are already in development and will be released “as often as possible”. Additionally, Galvagni hopes to deliver multiple expansions per year, as well as raising the Honor Society level cap that players will unlock when they reach the current maximum.

During this time, Kupperstein’s program team will continue to keep educational content relevant and up-to-date, planning for many years of lessons for its players.

“The program content roadmap goes far into the future,” he says. “We are constantly thinking about how to expand the content, to go deeper in the levels of ability, to make sure we have the right things so that every child finds what they need and what they want to pursue. .

“We can constantly refresh stuff for history and social science, we can also keep tabs on what’s interesting, what’s trending, what’s new. That way we have an incredibly fast production team for our video content, so our roadmap can be as flexible as it is long.”